Mazher Mahmood, 19/04/2009
THE poverty-stricken father of Slumdog Millionaire child star Rubina Ali plans to become a millionaire himself-by SELLING his nine-year-old daughter.
In a bid to escape India's real-life slums, Rafiq Qureshi put angel-faced darling of the Oscars Rubina up for adoption, demanding millions of rupees worth £200,000.
As he offered the shocking deal to the News of the World's undercover fake sheik this week, Rafiq declared: "I have to consider what's best for me, my family and Rubina's future."
Rafiq tried to blame Hollywood bosses for forcing him to put his daughter up for SALE.
As he tried to fix the illegal adoption deal, real-life slum dweller Rafiq declared: "We've got nothing out of this film."
Then, almost embarrassed to speak it out loud, he whispered to an accomplice the price tag he has put on his innocent young daughter: "It's £200,000!"
That was an astonishing FOURFOLD increase on his opening demand. But Rafiq's equally demanding brother Mohiuddin insisted: "The child is special now. This is NOT an ordinary child. This is an Oscar child!"
BUY MY DAUGHTER: Father Rafiq (centre) and uncle Rajan More (left) pose with Rubina and our undercover team
Dad Rafiq is desperate to cash in on their nine-year-old's success in the blockbuster film by selling her to the highest bidder.
He sees it as his family's escape route from the notorious Bandra slum sprawl of Mumbai.
Rafiq revealed his scheme to undercover News of the World reporters posing as a wealthy family from Dubai.
We travelled to Mumbai to expose the illegal sale after a tip-off from a concerned close family friend and former neighbour.
Shockingly, this sort of transaction is far from unusual in an impoverished nation where human life comes cheap and children are often treated as a commodity.
Rubina won the hearts of film-lovers around the world playing young Latika in British director Danny Boyle's movie that picked up eight Oscars and a pile of other glittering awards. It tells the rags to riches story of a young man from the slums who wins the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
Filmed in Mumbai's seething pauper ghetto it depicts starkly true scenes of poverty and child cruelty, where young orphans are blinded and crippled by Fagin-like thugs and forced to beg on the streets. And with a staggering 11 million children abandoned in India every year, there is no shortage of young prey.
Our informant, now a city tour guide, told us: "Rubina's family are furious that despite the film doing so well and their pretty daughter becoming so famous, they are still living in such rough conditions.
"They were approached by one wealthy Middle Eastern family who saw their plight in an item on Al Jazeera TV. The couple expressed an interest in adopting young Rubina and her parents' eyes lit up.
"Dad Rafiq is streetwise and knows that soon his daughter's success will be forgotten and her moment of fame will be over. He has a family to feed and simply can't afford it. He is keen to find a rich family to bring up Rubina but only if they are willing to help the whole family to get out of the slums.
"The Middle East family were moved to tears by the plight of the young orphans shown in the film and fell in love with Rubina.
"Just as Western stars like Madonna do, they want to adopt children from poor areas and give them a better life.
"This family wanted to take Rubina abroad. They agreed to come to Mumbai to discuss the adoption in May.
"But the approach has made Rafiq very greedy and he has said that he will consider the highest offer for his child. But they realise that the money will soon stop coming in and Rafiq is open to all offers."
Our investigator made contact with Rafiq and said we had heard he was considering having Rubina adopted. He told Rafiq he was acting for a wealthy Arab sheik who wanted to take the youngster to live with him 2,000 miles away in Dubai.
Rafiq replied: "Yes, we are considering Rubina's future.
SECRET SHAME: Rubina Ali is held aloft at Mumbai celebrations by dad now trying to sell her.
"Why don't you speak to my brother-in-law, Rajan, and he will discuss it with you? I will ask him to call you."
After contacting us, Rubina's uncle Rajan More - who speaks good English - confirmed: "Yes, we are interested in securing our girl's future.
"Rubina's life is miserable and she lives here with her stepmother. Most of the time she stays with me because she is not happy at her parents' home.
"Obviously if you wanted to adopt we could discuss this, but her parents would also expect some proper compensation in return. We are talking of around £50,000 for this to happen." In another phone call, father Rafiq coolly confirmed: "Whatever you have discussed with Rajan, I agree with. Whatever money is agreed by Rajan, I will accept.
"We can discuss everything about this deal when we meet. There's a lot of interest in Rubina, she's become very famous."
Without querying the background, intentions, or even the names of Rubina's prospective new parents, Rafiq arranged to meet us.
And as soon as we said the wealthy family lived in the United Arab Emirates Rafiq suggested: "We would love to come there.
"I have never been there but I have seen it in Indian films. It looks a great place."
Trafficking of poor Indian children to the Middle East, where they are forced to risk their lives as camel jockeys or subjected to sexual abuse, is common in the Mumbai slums. But that did not deter Rafiq.
His first plan was to bring Rubina plus other relatives to visit us in Dubai to discuss the deal. But he had to scrap the idea because he could not get a passport. He is disqualified because he is facing police charges over a knife attack.
That is why he did not accompany Rubina to the Oscars ceremony and her Uncle Mohiuddin went instead.
Rafiq tried to shrug off the problem, claiming: "There is a case against me but it's nothing. I'm trying to get it sorted now. In India you can buy anything if you have money!"
His Plan B was the meeting in Mumbai fixed for Thursday evening. But he arrived late with his little daughter at the luxurious Leela Kempinski hotel at 11.35pm, when most children her age would be in bed.
Also tagging along were trusted sidekick Rajan More, Rafiq's brother Mohiuddin, a friend called Dinesh Dubey and two young nephews. "They were all keen to see what the hotel looks like inside," explained Rajan as he entered the £480-a-night suite.
Smiling broadly, Rubina, who was wearing a torn orange and white Indian dress, looked around the room in amazement. She was proudly clutching her new Nokia mobile phone, a gift from a well-wisher.
She said: "My house is as big as the toilet you have here. We live in Gharib Nagar (Poor Man's Colony)."
As the young VIP ordered strawberry milk shake and ice-cream, dad Rafiq proudly told how his daughter clinched the part in the international blockbuster film.
"One of our neighbours where we live took her to the audition," he said. "Around 1,500 kids turned up and my daughter passed. The film took over a year to make and she worked on it for a month."
Slumdog has been a roaring success, raking in a staggering £185 million at box offices around the world.
But Rafiq, 36, again complained: "They haven't looked after us. They gave some money at the start but they gave us nothing afterwards. They gave us around 150,000 rupees (£2,040). They've been talking about giving us a house, but all they do is talk." Rubina chipped in: "But I did get toys. When we were filming in Juhu beach I got some crayons."
In fact Danny Boyle and producer Christian Colson have set up a trust to ensure Rubina gets a proper education, is well housed and receives support dealing with media attention.
It was reported that Rafiq had spent some of his daughter's film fees on medical treatment to a leg he broke while working as a carpenter. He also used her cash to buy a new mobile phone for himself so agents can contact him to discuss work offers for his daughter. Rafiq has two other children - Sana, aged 13 and six-year-old Abbass - as well as another baby on the way by Rubina's stepmum Munni. Street-kid Rubina is one of only a handful of youngsters who attend school in her neighbourhood.
Rafiq added: "What they showed in the film is exactly how life is here. The government doesn't help us. We get nothing.
"We live in one room, seven of us sleep on the floor. I earn £2 to £3 a day. I have to consider what's best for me, my family and Rubina's future."
A fortnight ago Rubina and fellow child actor Azharuddin Ismail were each given a £12,000 luxury apartment by Slumdog sound engineer Rasul Pookutty. The property in Kerala, south India, was awarded to Rasul - who himself escaped poverty - by the local council in honour of his Oscar achievement.
But Rafiq dismissed the gesture, complaining: "We haven't got anything yet, it's all supposed to come later. It's all talk. It's being built, it'll take a year to be finished."
And Rafiq insisted he had no intention of moving to Kerala, even when the apartment is complete.
"I won't move," he said. "I can never leave Mumbai. My childhood was here, everything I know is here in Mumbai."
As Rafiq spoke, Rubina excitedly looked around the suite, giggling and pointing out a large plasma TV on the wall to her 13-year-old cousin Mohsin.
Then she spoke about her new-found stardom. "I like being famous," she said. "Everyone where I live knows me and likes me now. Some people who I don't even know shout my name wherever I go - 'Rubina, Rubina'!"
She proudly told us how she had worked with the stars on Slumdog and with "Uncle Danny (Boyle)".
UpdateIndian police say there is no evidence the father was selling Slumdog Kid.